Is It Forgetfulness or Something Else?
We’ve all lost our keys, or forgotten to take the garbage out. Everyone gets into a bind when they can’t remember the name of a person they met last week, or why they walked into the bedroom just now. Our lives are busy, we’ve got a lot on our minds and our attention is rightly divided among all our daily tasks. There isn’t one of us, though, who hasn’t thought “Am I just forgetful today or is this something more serious”.
According to the World Health Organization, nearly 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia, and every year 10 million new cases are found. It is estimated that 5-8% of the over 60 population is experiencing some form of cognitive impairment.
Cognitive impairment can be caused by a wide variety of non-dementia related issues, from medication side effects, metabolic and/or endocrine disorders to illness and depression. It can also be caused by dementia. Assessing cognitive impairment and identifying its cause, particularly at an early stage, is hugely important.
Medicare now requires that all beneficiaries receive a cognitive assessment at their Annual Wellness Visit. Coverage for the wellness visit (and any follow-up visits) is available to anyone who has had Medicare Part B coverage for at least 12 months. This initial screening will take 10 minutes or less when done by trained staff. A positive screening result warrants further evaluation with a combination of cognitive testing and patient history (often from the patient themselves and family members/care givers).
The National Institute on Aging points out the abundant benefits associated with assessing cognitive impairment and identifying its causes. If the screening is negative, the patients and the family’s concerns may be alleviated. If the screening is positive, then further evaluations are warranted. The first step is to identify the cause of the impairment. If it is dementia, early diagnosis can help the patient and the family address issues such as averting potential safety concerns, creating or updating advance directives and long-term care plans, arranging for assistance with medical, legal and financial concerns, and providing the patient, family members and caregivers appropriate information and referrals